Q. -- Doesn't race walking make your hips hurt?
A. -- No. You are probably referring to the exaggerated use of the hips by most race walkers. I have never known, or even heard of, a race walker who hurt his or her hips using an exaggerated hip motion. There are, however, three ways any walker or runner can hurt his or her hips
|by increasing his or her speed or mileage too rapidly (but then more than the hips might hurt),|
|by going a long distance wearing a waist pouch with the belt that is too tight (the hip pointers will talk back to you), or|
|by going extremely long distances (think 100+ miles)--in which case everything will hurt (so why should the hips be any different).|
Q. -- Why do race walkers wiggle their hips so much?
A. -- The speed of a race walker is based on the number of steps taken per minute (step rate) and the distance covered by each step (stride length). Taking very quick steps requires training, but does not require hip "wiggle." Taking longer strides without lifting or creeping, however, generally requires two distinct hip motions at the same time. The one hip motion is a "hip drop" that compensates for the body passing over a stiff leg, helps the race walker take a longer stride, and keeps the upper part of the body from bouncing up and down very much. The other hip motion is a "hip rotation" (around a vertical line through the body) that allows both the forward foot to be planted further in front of the body (without braking forward motion) and the toes of the rear foot to remain in contact with the ground longer before lift off. Some race walkers can handle both hip motions in a way that looks very graceful. Most handle them with reasonable decorum. But some accomplish this feat by adding an eye-catching, and giggle-producing, sideways sachet that makes them look like they are trying to push their competitors off the road. Laugh if you want, but they are all simply trying to walk as fast as they can.
Q. -- The fast race walkers look like they are running, and some pictures actually show them off the ground.
A. -- Race walkers are required to have at least one foot on the ground at all times as judged by the eye. The "as-judged-by-the-eye" stipulation causes a lot of confusion among non-race walkers. Race walkers, like baseball players, are monitored by officials who make rule-infraction calls based on what they see. Pictures and video replays are not used. Top race walkers know that the eye generally can not see lifting that lasts less than about 30 milliseconds (3 hundredths of a second), and some refine their walking technique to be able to take advantage of that fact. They know, however, that if they push much beyond about the 25-millisecond threshhold, they are playing with fire, and calls by 3 or more judges can get them pulled off the course. Such disqualifications (as they are called) frequently happen at the very end of a race when everyone is trying to achieve better finish places or fend off challenges. It is not unusual for a race walker to be disqualified within a quarter mile of the finish line--and not be notified of the disqualification until after he or she has crossed the finish line. This latter case is especially frustrating when the race is 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) long.
Q. -- Why not judge race walkers using slow-motion video replays or another technology?
A. -- (This question is usually asked in connection with the question above, but sometimes asked in light of other athletic events being electronically timed to the hundredths, even thousandths of a second.)
|First of all, most people associated with race walking think that the current system of judging works just fine in most cases. They would rather imitate baseball (which relies on the umpires' eyes) than imitate American football (where video reviews can be requested). They think that judging by technology changes the nature of the sport.|
|Second, the use of video recordings and replays for a race walk is not practical. The race walking course is usually a 2-kilometer (1¼-mile) loop that may have 100 or more athletes competing at the same time. The 50-kilometer walkers require from 3¾ to 4½ hours to complete the race. To video record all the athletes at every point on the course for up to 4½ hours--and then have people review all the recordings (even selected recordings) in slower motion before announcing the results of the race--is way beyond practical.|
|Finally, some people have tried to develop a technology that is mounted to the race walker's shoes and records (or reports) when both feet are off the ground at the same time. The technology to date has yet to convince the race walking community of its reliability--or ability to improve the sport.|
Q. -- So ... why not just run?
A. -- Running is a great form of exercise and competition. If you like it and can do it, then run. But, running is not the only great form of pedestrian exercise and competition. Walking can provide ALL (I said ALL) of the benefits of running AND usually causes fewer injuries in the process. So I would ask in return, "Why not just walk?"
The "walk-versus-run" issue is so interesting to me that I have devoted a whole page to the issue. (See So ... Why Not Just Run?.)